A martini for Harriet
I’m going to deviate from my standard practice of avoiding adult topics in this blog—usually I keep it kid-friendly. Today, however, I mention the name of an adult beverage.
That’s because today is different. The proprieties must be observed. Today seven years ago my beautiful, clever, witty, passionate, fun, inspiring agent—Harriet Kasak—lost her battle with cancer.
She was the iconic urbane sophisticate, living and working in Manhattan, the capital of Western Civilization. It was our practice whenever we met, once the business aspect of the meeting was finished, to have a martini. I like mine with gin, extremely dry (only enough vermouth to coat the glass) and 3 olives–served cold enough to freeze your lips. And so I’m enjoying one now as I write this post.
In the mid 1990’s, early in my illustration career, Harriet took my edgy, trying-too-hard-to-be-post-modern style and showed me how to make it accessible. She taught me how to draw little girls, which was/is difficult for me (yes, she showed me by drawing them herself). For one of my early titles—a history of eating utensils—she accompanied me to the Metropolitan Museum where I drew sketches of various species of forks, knives and spoons from ancient cultures. She found joy in the business of promoting her artists.
Every Autumn Harriet hosted a meet-and-greet party for her illustrators and clients. In the early years they were held in her apartment/office, later as her business grew she chose lively venues to accommodate the growing crowd. These parties were dazzling for their locations, food, and gathering of creative personalities.
One year she organized a field trip to the artists’ community of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where a bunch of us trekked to be instructed by no less than Jim McMullan. Class in the morning, eating, shopping, sightseeing in the afternoon and evening.
Once while Harriet was jetting around the country tending to business, she arranged an afternoon layover in Pittsburgh so she could visit me. Naturally I was nervous about entertaining Harriet, who had once entertained Andy Warhol in her home. I made reservations atop the Steel Building, hoping to impress her with views of the ‘Burgh while we luncheoned in quiet elegance. Luckily I had the wit to also lay in some groceries against the event she’d rather eat at my house. Which proved fortunate—since Harriet had spent the week gallivanting about the country dining in restaurants, what she craved was home-cooking. And so we retired to my kitchen where together we assembled a glorious lunch from recipes found in Martha Stewart’s magazine.
About that history of eating utensils: I was still an untried children’s book illustrator at that stage of my career, and Simon & Schuster had some trepidation about how I would go about illustrating a book dealing with specific historical facts. They were afraid I would simply make stuff up, without bothering to do the research. A meeting was called; Harriet and I were summoned, along with Patricia Lauber (the author), editor and art director. It was a long meeting, lasting several hours, with lunch ordered in, while my sketches for the book were painstakingly examined for historical accuracy. Was I taking too many liberties with history? Finally, late in the afternoon, I cited a source for my decision to show a particular mediæval dining room setup—which Patricia recognized as the same she had used for writing that paragraph about mediæval dining. The room’s mood warmed up; author, editor & art director saw they could trust me—and so could Harriet. After the meeting finally broke up Harriet & I piled into one of those charming little bars that abound in Manhattan—this one sporting a wraparound ersatz Renaissance mural—so we might repair the damages sustained in the heat of action. We congratulated ourselves on coming through the trial with our honor intact, and celebrated by having a couple of martinis.
Of course, Harriet could have sent me into that meeting all by myself. But she didn’t—that wouldn’t be her style. She was there to support me during the crisis, no matter how it turned out.
Sure I loved her. Anybody’d be crazy not to.
Cheers, Harriet! I miss you.